1st Arizona COVID-19 patient survives after ECMO treatment

The first COVID-19 patient in Arizona has survived after being placed on a rare life-support machine.

According to HonorHealth, the 53-year-old patient was admitted to HonorHealth Deer Valley Medical Center after experiencing coronavirus-related symptoms, including fever, chills, body aches, and nausea.

The man had recently traveled overseas and his condition rapidly deteriorated. He was then transferred to HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center where he was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation therapy.

"Every phone call from the hospital, I was like should I answer? Will it be good news or bad news because I know he was in critical condition, but thank god he’s OK now," said the patient's wife, Olivera Dedic.

The medical team was scrambling for ideas to safe his life, and ECMO therapy was a last resort.

"It was first suggested that ECMO would not work for these patients," said Dr. Robert Riley, a surgeon with HonorHealth. "Using strict criteria, we identified a subset of patients that would benefit."

ECMO therapy removes blood from the body, pumps oxygen into the blood, and pumps it back into the body, helping relieve strain on damaged lungs and hearts.

"There hasn't been a lot of experience that is is a feasible way to treat people who are very sick with COVID-19. so it allows us to treat patients who otherwise would have died," said Dr. Ace Ovil, a surgeon with HonorHealth.

During the ECMO treatment, the man spent 10 days in a medically-induced coma. On day 11, he woke up, became immediately responsive, and even began FaceTiming with his family while recovering in the ICU.

"I'm so thankful to everybody who saved his life, and I would just say to everyone: stay home, be patient, and one day, this will be behind us," said Dedic.

“The survival of our patient required a tremendous team effort including physicians respiratory therapists, nurses and even housekeeping to address unique ways in which to care for, monitor and sanitize our unit for the best possible care,” Dr. Riley said. “I can’t emphasize enough that this was truly an out-of-the-box approach to care.”

HonorHealth says the man is one of the first COVID-19 ECMO survivors in the country documented through the national registry Extracorporeal Life Support Organization, which currently lists only 10 survivors worldwide.

The team with HonorHealth says they now intend to use ECMO therapy for severe COVID-19 patients, going forward. They did caution, however, that there are serious risks in the therapy.

In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

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